Writing a Book Helped a Survivor Process Fears of Cancer Recurrence

A woman with a rare and aggressive cancer shares how writing about the realities of cancer survivorship improved her mental health and even helped strengthen her relationship with her family.

For Tara Rolle, the treatment was the easy part of her cancer experience.

Diagnosed with small-cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, at 37, Rolle was initially shocked but then jumped into planning mode. She rallied her family for support, figured out the most appropriate way to explain the situation to her teenage daughter and even managed to continue her job as a San Francisco school superintendent while undergoing treatment.

At The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rolle received overlapping cancer treatment. After undergoing six rounds of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of external-beam radiation and three rounds of brachytherapy (a treatment involving radioactive sources being placed inside the patient to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors), Rolle was officially declared free of cancer in July 2020 — five months after first being diagnosed.

While Rolle’s family was relieved and ready to move on, Rolle was unable to join them.

Rolle began to experience fear of cancer recurrence, and she found herself taking long walks and writing down these thoughts, which she dubbed “the white noise of survivorship,” in an attempt to give them less power over her mindset.

Realizing that these long messages could help communicate her feelings of anxiety to her family and help other survivors in similar situations, Rolle decide to put them into a book, “The White Noise of Survivorship and Other Unsolicited Lessons I Learned From Cancer.”

In today’s episode of the “Cancer Horizons” podcast, Rolle shares the unexpected upsides of undergoing cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, why she chose to not initially go public with her diagnosis, how writing her book helped process her fears of cancer recurrence and more.

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